Lightning-Maple Leafs Preview

While the Tampa Bay Lightning can still advance to the

postseason for the first time in three seasons, they don’t have

much time to get back on track.

The Lightning look to snap a four-game road losing streak

Thursday and post a fourth straight win at Air Canada Centre as

they face the Eastern Conference-worst Toronto Maple Leafs.

Despite losing six of seven, Tampa Bay (27-27-11) is in 11th

place in the East and five points back of Boston for the eighth and

final playoff spot with a month left in the regular season.

Second-year center Steven Stamkos has been doing his best to

carry the Lightning to their first postseason appearance since

2006-07, but not even his franchise-record 17-game point streak has

been enough to curb the team’s poor play. He has 16 goals and 15

assists during this stretch.

“None of that’s going to matter if we’re not in the playoffs,”

Stamkos said after setting a team record with his 17th power-play

goal in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Montreal. “I’m just trying to do my

part and help this team win and that’s creating offense. I’m going

to keep doing that for the rest of the year.”

Stamkos has five points in the last two meetings with Toronto

but had none in the Lightning’s only visit to Air Canada Centre

this season – a 2-1 overtime victory Nov. 3.

Ryan Malone had the game-winner in that matchup, but he could

miss his second straight contest with an upper-body injury. He’s

gone 14 games without scoring since tallying a third-period,

game-tying goal in a 3-2 overtime win over the Maple Leafs on Jan.

21.

Tampa Bay hasn’t had problems scoring lately – averaging 3.5

goals in its last 10 games – but likely needs a better effort in

net to avoid its first five-game slide on the road since an 0-5-2

stretch from Nov. 28-Dec. 17. The Lightning have given up five

goals in four straight road games and are allowing a league-high

3.67 per game away from home.

Antero Niittymaki, 1-3-0 with a 5.79 goals-against average in

his last five starts, was pulled 7:33 into the second period

Tuesday after allowing four goals on 13 shots. Niittymaki is 2-1-0

with a 2.26 GAA versus the Maple Leafs this season.

Mike Smith stopped 14 of 15 shots in relief Tuesday, but he is

0-4-0 with a 3.60 GAA in his last seven appearances. Smith has won

his only two career starts against Toronto.

The Lightning have limited the Leafs to a total of four goals in

winning their last three trips to Toronto after losing six straight

there.

While Tampa Bay looks to inch closer to a playoff spot, the

Maple Leafs (21-33-12) are trying to impact the race from the

bottom of the East standings.

“We want to make it hard on teams and any way we can we want to

win,” Luca Caputi told the team’s official Web site after scoring

his first goal with Toronto in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over

Boston. “It’s a good atmosphere to be around right now. It’s fun

when you’re playing hockey and winning games.”

Rookie Jonas Gustavsson made six of his 26 saves in overtime

Tuesday and will likely get his second straight start as Toronto

goes for back-to-back wins for the first time since Dec. 12-14.

Gustavsson is 1-0-2 with a 2.58 GAA versus Tampa Bay.

Fellow rookie Carl Gunnarsson, who scored his second goal

Tuesday, has four of his seven assists against the Lightning.